Sunday, June 25, 2017

He paid my debt and now provides all I need . . .

Sometimes the simplest illustrations are the most effective. Here is one favorite: a person ahead of you at the checkout offers to pay the bill for the person behind him. It is not his order or expense, but he takes it upon Himself to pay it and you can go through without owing anything. Your bill is paid.

This is what Jesus did for me concerning sin. He took what I owed and wrote it on Himself. Even though He owed nothing, He was willing to pay for everyone else, including me.

“You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” (1 John 3:5)
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
“That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19)

The purpose of Jesus paying my debt is kind but not merely so. His intention was that I might be free from sin and tell others the good news — that the sinless Christ pays our debt and reconciles us to God so we can serve Him instead of sin.

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:8–12)

 The simple reality is that I’m set free from the tyranny of only one choice — “my way” — and can now live my life “His way.” Yet to do that, I must abide in Him. How can my message of reconciliation be convincing if my life does not demonstrate that what Jesus did has had an impact on me? The fact is, it cannot. Besides, that effect on me is so important that God says it is the ‘proof’ that Jesus Christ has set me free from the power of sin.

“No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:5–10)

It is not that I cannot sin, but as a redeemed person, I now have a choice. Prior to Christ, my sin nature remained my only motivation. However, with Christ I can say ‘no’ to sin because of His power given by His presence in me. Now I have two motivations: my old nature of sin (dead to God and still wanting to run my life) and that new nature that can abide in His presence and practice righteousness.  

In other words, in Christ, I am set free from sin’s grip. In myself, I am a sinner. I cannot deny this, yet I also must declare the reality that Jesus died for me to take away my sin.

Jesus, forgive me for thinking at times that I am helpless and cannot overcome, but also forgive me for failing to abide in You and trying to battle sin on my own. Just as I cannot pay the penalty for my own sin (and remain alive), I cannot overcome the power of sin without Your grace and strength. Your Word says I can do all things through You, yet so often I stop short. Instead of reaching for Your hand, abiding in You, and trusting You to graciously supply whatever is needed to tackle ‘all things.’ Your grace and goodness is incredible. You saved me from sin and You keep on interceding for me and helping me live a life that overcomes, a life that can now choose righteousness and declare the incredible reality of Your grace and power. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Pride is a blinding force

As a young person who did well in school, my classmates made fun of me if I fell below my usual test scores. It didn’t take long to pick up the idea that excellence was expected. Worse yet, I became ridiculously sensitive to criticism. Long after those classmates stopped picking at me, my own self-talk remained negative. It seemed to me that I never quite reached some invisible and vague higher standard.

Now I realize this was personal pride, but for a long time those notions were not easy to shake. Not only that, they made me a sitting duck for Satan. All he had to do was suggest I’d failed and I was beating myself up and thinking that God was upset with me.

For a time, the idea of ‘try harder’ appealed, but that didn’t rid me of the desire to do better, be smarter, be a better person, a better Christian. Nothing worked. I began to think I was a total failure.
Again, the problem was pride. I’d become a Christian and knew that I could not save myself, but I didn’t want to fully acknowledge that I cannot do anything else apart from Christ. When that reality finally got through to me, I could see that I loved me and my skills more than I loved Jesus and depended on Him.

At that point, I asked Him to restore me to that first love, even to a greater love for Him than I’d ever had. Satan didn’t like it and began hitting me with all sorts of things. Yet God used the enemy attacks to show me many attitudes in my life that had pulled me away or that had stepped between me and God. I had so much to deal with and God revealed most of it by trials that I could not overcome by myself, combined with an incredible sense of His presence and loving care.

Over the course of time, Jesus kept drawing me back to the gospel and what He had done at the cross to prove His love for me. He reminded me of all the ways He revealed His care for me — regardless of my failures, insecurities, even despite my foolish pride. In this painful process, He set me free from my proud desire to be more than I am, and from that self-condemnation. He used verses like this one:

“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34)

One of Satan’s big lies is that God really does not love us. People try different ways to compensate for that. For me, it was mostly intellectual performance. For others, it could be sports or other skills. Some seek love elsewhere. Some try to be more attractive, the best dressed, richer, more popular. It has been said that there is a God-shaped void within us. Money, fame, possessions, relationships, nothing else fits.

For me, my pride blinded me to the problem of pride. I only saw the symptoms. If I failed, I thought success would fix it, forgetting that the only solution to pride is humility, and true humility only comes when the gospel is heard, understood, and accepted. I felt like a failure because before God, I am. I fall short. I need Jesus. He is my righteousness and my wisdom, my substitute for sin, but also all that I need to please God and to live as God wants me to live. I cannot do anything apart from Him.

Pride also blinded me to the truth that God loves me totally, even when I’m behaving like a jerk, even when I’m thinking He doesn’t. He proved it at the Cross and He proves it every day by His continual presence, kindness and great compassion and patience. I might feel like giving up, but He never does.

"The LORD appeared to me from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you." (Jeremiah 31:3).

Jesus, dearest Lord and Savior. Thank You and all glory to You forever!

Friday, June 23, 2017

God planned before time began

Endless space is a challenge to my imagination. So is eternity. The best I can come up with for eternity is that time no longer exists and all events are in the ‘now’ rather than past, present, or future. But that too is a challenge because we are bound in time.

God is eternal. His Word speaks of Him knowing the future as if it is the present. He does His work with the knowledge of its need and outcome before He even begins.

For instance, Jesus speaks of “the King” who will say to those on his right hand, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)

Other New Testament passages say that God has chosen us in Christ “before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4) and that God’s “works were finished from the foundation of the world.” (Hebrews 4:3)

This boggles my mind. We humans make our plans, but not with the same knowledge and certainty as God. Even Jesus “was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times” for our sake (1 Peter 1:20)

As for salvation, God also sees the end before the beginning. He declares that “the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.” (Revelation 17:8)

To me that is marvel enough, yet this verse gets even more personal:

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Before I was born, before my sinful nature manifested itself in sinful self-rule, God sent Jesus to die for those sins, to die for me. He knew. He created a plan to cover it all.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17–21)

This is the good news, the greatest marvel of all. God is not just out there doing His thing — He lives in my heart, governs and cares for my life, AND gives me a task of great and grave importance in His kingdom: I live on earth to represent Christ, to act as an ambassador on His behalf and a messenger of good news. His plan was formed in ages past, in eternity.

“This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time (1 Timothy 2:3–6) . . . . For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:10)

This good news is for everyone. It applies even to those who reject it, yet for those who believe, it becomes our incredible hope. God’s grace has appeared bringing salvation for all people. Those who are saved are trained by grace “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11–14)

Lord Jesus Christ, the scope of what You have done overwhelms me. Day by day You remind me of what You purposed to do before the world began and how You have carried out that plan. Despite the choice of allowing sin into Your created world, and despite our selfish resistance to You, You devised a way to rescue us with new life, faith, and the privilege of being born again into Your kingdom, into Your family. You made me Your child and Your servant, even Your ambassador. What a wonder You are!